By Shams Mohmand
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistani forces killed 15 militants in the lawless northwest of the country, a security official said Friday, as part of a campaign Washington hopes will help it defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan.
While such operations may ease concerns in Washington, they could spark retaliatory violence in Pakistan, which has been hit by bombings that have killed hundreds since launching an offensive against the Taliban in September.
Militants in the Khyber area, part of a region regarded as a global militant hub, have been carrying out attacks on Western forces’ supplies to Afghanistan and bombings in Pakistan, the Pakistani military says.
“The security forces have besieged an important stronghold of the militants in Khyber and have taken control of all exit and entry points into it,” said Frontier Corps paramilitary force spokesman Major Fazal-ur-Rehman.
“During the action, 15 militants were killed and many were injured…fighting is still continuing.”
The army made gains with its 30,000-troop offensive in South Waziristan, a bastion of the Pakistani Taliban, which is made up of groups based in tribal areas. The military says it has killed 600 militants in the campaign. But it has announced no killings or capture of Taliban or al Qaeda leaders.
PRESIDENT UNDER PRESSURE
Analysts say the military advances have done little for President Asif Ali Zardari, under pressure from corruption allegations.
His ties with the United States have angered the Taliban, the powerful military establishment, government and ordinary Pakistanis who all see U.S. drone aircraft attacks on militant targets on their soil as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.
Pakistan’s government has published a list of people, including four cabinet ministers, who could face prosecution over corruption after a controversial amnesty lapses on Saturday.
Zardari, also on the list, cannot be prosecuted because of presidential immunity. However, the cases involving about 8,000 people, many from his party, could weaken him further.
Zardari is constantly under fire from the media, and some analysts wonder if he can survive politically as the United States keeps up pressure on Pakistan to help in Afghanistan, and the country faces what is likely to be more bombings.
The Taliban have killed pro-government tribal elders and some clerics who have spoken out against the group. And they have blown up hundreds of girls’ schools in the northwest in a drive to impose their harsh version of Islamic rule.
An anti-Taliban tribal elder was killed Friday in a roadside bomb attack in Bajaur, another militant sanctuary on the Afghan border.